This is the version I am referring to:

Thus shall ye think of this fleeting world: A star at dawn, a bubble in a stream; A flash of lightning in a summer cloud; A flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream.

  • illusion? rhetorical, i like it
    – user2512
    Sep 16, 2017 at 19:02

3 Answers 3


No phantom, no...

The Diamond Sutra in Classical Chinese, wherein one of the verses instantly enlightened the 6th Patriarch Huineng, the corresponding verse to your quote is this:


This beautiful verse was done by this guy with his league of national selected translators:

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Kumarajiva is held by some Great Buddhist Masters as the "return of Sariputra". A memorial was built for him right after his cremation wherein housed his tongue Śarīra, Kumarajiva Temple in Gangsu, China:

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Recently out of curiosity I studied some Vinayas, one incident got description of Sariputra, said he was with small built; immediately echoing with the above image in my mind... though that saying remained just a saying.

If I render the above verse, it should read as:

All conditional things are, like mirages of the bubbles also an illusive dream, like dews also as if lightning, as such thus should be seen.

This verse transmitting the message that all existences are empty, constructed as if mirages and dreams; short-lived like morning dews, fleeting like lightning.

The phantom could be a different translation of mirage. A star at dawn could be the different translation of dew since by sunrise the dew will evaporate without trace... etc.


These are all metaphors for impermanent things. Phantom is a ghost.

You can find the full text in Tibetan and English here

An audio lecture (four parts) can be found here (On the main page click dharma essentials, and then course 6 for the links to parts 3 - 4)

Some written notes on the audio lecture here.


The concept of impermanence targets those good things in life (wealth, good health, good friends, peaceful circumstances, access to necessities, etc.) that allow us to be lazy about acquiring insight (about the nature of the mind, about the nature of one's own karma, about the true nature of love, about the nature of suffering, about how mindfulness meditation works, etc.). There are various activities that are not lazy in this sense of the term. Being a good parent or friend is not being lazy. Being a theoretical or experimental scientist seeking new knowledge is not being lazy. Actively seeking insight into human nature (as a meditator, psychologist, or philosopher), of course, is not being lazy. Insight into human nature is permanent in the sense that we retain it in future lifetimes, during which it is bound to be relevant and helpful. On a practical level, the contemplation of impermanence motivates us to take advantage of good health and peaceful circumstances to sit down and meditate or study the nature of the mind (study Dharma if you happen to be a Buddhist). When reading Buddhist sutras, hyperbole such as the "fleeting world," must be understood to be an emotional appeal to meditate and study rather than a statement about the nature of the world. In particular, the "fleeting world" is not something from which escape is possible, it is something to understand. The fact that all experience occurs in a flow of consciousness (and therefore impermanent in some sense) does not mean that love and insight are worthless.

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